I dreamed of a marriage. My own, I would call it except that I can’t see the face of the woman I was so wrong about loving until death do us part. Rarely do years pass in my dreams, but we had been apart long enough that it felt like our fleeting union belonged to another lifetime, as though lived by strangers we might have seen passing by on the street.
She was faded in my mind to a shoulder buried in long straight black hair that frizzed if she got caught in the rain, giving her the look of a witch casting about for a broom. That’s all I could conjure when she got in touch and asked to meet me for tea. Even her voice was a stranger’s echo.
We met when I got roped into some stupid parlor game at a party of rich people I found myself wandering through. In dreams I’m cast into the current around me and pulled into the acts of those fanning me on with ethereal hands. So I followed the laughs and encouraging leers, and took off my shirt with several other young men, and danced before the other guests without ever grasping what was the point of the game. All the faces floated above the islands of tables, lit by buttery lamplight in the dark. I don’t remember what happened, but it must have been then that she saw me, dancing with my shirt off, like a fool, swept up in someone else’s parade.
Needless to say we left the stupid party together. Confidence flowed blue and bright through my stride then. In this dream I was a painter, and my paintings were selling faster than I could commit their faces to memory, and I was walking away from someone else’s party in the company of someone new and beautiful. I walked beside her, and could nearly make out her face in the night going down the sidewalk lined with Camilla trees, just a soft smile in the perfumed dark beneath the streetlights.
The voice of a mother-in-law conjured out of the fog somewhere, swore this would never work, that we were too volatile for each other. Even after we smashed our world into jettisoned pieces, she didn’t think we should meet up again, even after years had passed. But the woman I dreamed I married, insisted we meet again after our old car was found, pulled from the bottom of a river.
How the opaque milky brown river rendered up the bones of our old VW bus that we had driven all over the Philippines, was too unlikely to wonder at. By the time she tracked down my number, I’d nearly forgotten the density of the air, the water you could wring out of each breath we breathed together, living in that antique bus in the Philippines. But, as I knew her shoulder, the sweep of her hair, I could see the tea and milk in our little tin cups, half drunk, left on the fold-out table where we sat close beneath the warm rain racing itself to the puddling ground.
I wasn’t confounded by the cacophony of circumstances, but the echoed memory of it all. I could remember how we thought living in the tropics would be the wild flare that would fix us. We thought my jealousy and her delight at random attention would simply slough off of us in the first seasonal deluge. I could remember all of this and so never doubted for a slumbering moment that this was my lived and shattered receding life; I never for a moment questioned the rippling fabric of the life around me, even as I couldn’t recall her face.
She found me because someone found the bus we’d rolled into the river, and they found her. She found the map I’d made and left inside the bus so she found me again. After not speaking for years, having no reason to know one another anymore, we were once again sitting with tea and milk in a room where I could only recall her hands around the steaming mug, and her hair falling straight and beautiful between her arms.
She presented me with the tattered map where every location was a place we had gone, where every city was why we had failed, every river and road was how we’d pulled each other apart. All roads, no matter how less traveled, led to the last river where we had slid off the hill in the stampeding mud before the sweep of a monsoon. I don’t remember how we got free of the bus plunging into the torrent. It’s as if we didn’t, like we died and those lives that we thought were ours just stopped.
Somehow, by some decree of dreams, this map of mine survived as we did. She wanted me to have it, and to give away whatever clinging threads might still hang between our hearts. On top of the map she laid two battered and faded hundred dollar bills. It was, she explained, the last of my money that she had stolen back then, out of anger, desperation and heartbreak. We had run from each other, broke and alone, convinced we would only drag the other farther down as we both spun away sinking alone. She said solemnly that she had never had the strength to spend any of it, even when she had to hitch-hike, and beg a plane ticket home from her mother. She felt she’d owed it back to me this whole time.
So she returned it all then, and said that she felt free for the first time since we met. I still couldn’t see her face. Just her hair sweeping behind her in the morning light as she passed by the windows of my apartment, her shape cutting the yellow glare, walking away and into nothing.